Fort William Henry Museum


History

Lake George

Present day Lake George was formed over 10,000 years ago when the Labrador Ice Sheet advanced from north to south through the valley in which the Lake now lies. At the present day Narrows, a solid land mass connected Tongue Mountain on the west to the mountains on the east. A river originated in the trench now occupied by Northwest Bay Brook and flowed south, joined by other streams and rivers, exiting the area thorough the gap between Pilot Knob and French Mountain, flowing into the Hudson River. Along the way, it formed Glen Lake, Round Pond and the wetlands east of French Mountain. A second river began north of the land mass flowing north to the western end of Bald Mountain. This river emptied into present day Lake Champlain.

As the ice sheet advanced, it scoured the landscape removing the connecting land mass at the Narrows. As it melted, it formed the islands of the Narrows and sediment blocked the outlets of the rivers. Evidence of this can be seen at a natural stone dam on the north end of the lake. It also deposited fine sand in the shallow bays and left a “promontory” at the south end of the lake upon which Fort William Henry would later be built.

Its outlets blocked, the rivers now filled the valley creating present day Lake George. The lake flows north empting into a small river at Ticonderoga which in turn flows north to Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River and finally the Atlantic Ocean.

People come to the Lake

The promontory on the south end of the lake has been occupied by many peoples. Pottery, knives and prehistoric fire pits have been unearthed within the glacial deposits, 12 feet below the surface. Lamoka Points dating back to 3,500-2,500 BC are on display at the fort museum.

Early Europeans moved through the area, although there is little evidence remaining. Father Isaac Jogues, a Jesuit Priest from France, on his way to establish a mission in the Mohawk Valley, named the lake, Lac du Saint Sacrement. Not until 1603 when the French arrived in the area, is there another written record of Europeans visiting here. When the French arrived, they found the area around the lake claimed by the Mohican (Stockbridge-Munsee) and the Five Nations of the Iroquois (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Cayuga).

The Iroquois called the lake Andia-ta-rocte ("lake that shuts itself in"). When Samuel de Champlain arrived at Corlars Lake (later Champlain), he claimed all waters in the drainage basin for France. This included Lac du Saint Sacrament.

The French and Indian War

For almost 70 years, England and France had been at war with a few breaks of unsettled peace.  By the beginning of the 18th century, they were the only rivals in the conquest for domination of North America.  The French and Indian War was a colonial extension of the Seven Year’s War; hostilities in which more lives were lost than during the American Revolution and involved people on three continents and the Caribbean.  It was the true first world war.

Each side wanted to increase its land holdings in the New World and protect its valuable fur trade.  Claim of land by one side or the other resulted in disagreements and skirmishes.  George Washington was sent to build a fort near Great Meadows, PA which was taken by the French just one month later.  This set off a string of small battles which resulted in an official declaration of war in May 1756.

For the early years of the war, the French, although outnumbered by the British, dominated the battlefield defeating them in battles at Fort Oswego, Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) and Fort William Henry.

In 1758, the British, under the direction of Lord William Pitt, began to make peace with important Indian allies and begin adapting their war strategies to fight a different type of war than the British were accustomed to on Europe’s battlefields.  The French also began to be abandoned by many of their Indian allies.  Outnumbered and outgunned by the British, the French collapsed during the years 1758-59, climaxing with a massive defeat at Quebec in September 1759.

The Treaty of Paris (1763), which also ended the European Seven Year’s War, officially brought an end to the conflict in North America.

Although effectively ending French political and cultural influence in what would later become the United States, and resulting in massive land gains for Britain, the war would also have other effects.  The relationship between England and Native Americans was badly eroded and although the war strengthened the British hold on the colonies, the expense of the war played a major role in the worsening relationship between Britain and its colonies that led to the Revolutionary War just a few years later.

Participants in the French and Indian War

French – France,  New France (Canada), Spain, First National Allies (Algonquin, Lenape, Wyandot, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Shawnee, Mikmag, Huron)

British – Great Britain, American Colonies, Iroquois Confederacy (Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora)

Timeline:

March 15, 1744-October 1748: King George’s War – conflict over domination in North America ends with no clear victor with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

1752-1753: Agitation grows – Tension grows between France and England over land and trading claims.  Minor skirmishes break out.

Nov-December 1753: George Washington carries Virginia’s ultimatum over French encroachment to Captain Legardeau de Saint-Pierre at Riviere aux Boeufs.  Lagardeau rejects it.

May 1754: Washington defeats French in a surprise attack (the first battle) and builds Fort Necessity.

July 1754: The French take Fort Necessity.  Washington is blamed for the fort’s loss and resigns.  He will later return as a volunteer under British authority.

June 1755: The British seize Acadia (Nova Scotia).

July 1755: The Battle of the Wilderness – British General Braddock’s forces defeated near Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania leaving the backwoods of the British Territory undefended.

July 1755: British Col. William Johnson arrives at the “Great Carrying Place” to build a fortified storehouse.  Work was already underway led by Capt. Robert Rogers.  Col. Phineas Lyman takes over to complete construction of Fort Lyman which would later become Fort Edward.

August 1755:  William Johnson arrives at Lac du Saint Sacrament and renames it Lake George in honor of the King.  Begins work on a fortification to later be named Fort William Henry after two royal grandsons.

September 9, 1755: William Johnson’s forces are engaged in several battles that would collectively be named the Battle of Lake George.  This would include the Bloody Morning Scout – an ambush that resulted in the death of British Col. Ephraim Williams and Mohawk King Hendrick.  A later engagement would be called the Battle of Bloody Pond.  Johnson’s forces win the day, making him the first British hero of the war.

May 8-9, 1756: Declaration of War – War is officially declared between Great Britain and France.

August 14, 1756: Fort Oswego is captured by the French.

March 1757: St Patrick’s Day attack on Fort William Henry ends with a French Defeat.

August 3-9, 1757: Fort William Henry – The commander-in-chief of the French forces, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, lays siege to Fort William Henry which Lt. Col. George Monro is finally forced to surrender.  The infamous massacre occurs on August 10 which will later be dramatized in James Fenimore Cooper’s book, The Last of the Mohicans.  The fort is burned in fires that lasted two days and could be seen from Fort Edward, 16 miles to the south.

July 1758:  General James Abercrombie and Lord Howe assemble a force of 16,000men on the south shore of Lake George.  On July 6th, the force arrived at the north end of the Lake and proceeded to head towards Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga).  They attacked the fort on July 8th taking a great number of casualties.  The day ended in defeat for the British and a victory for Montcalm defending Carillon.  Lord Howe was killed.

July 25, 1758: Louisbourg – The British seize Louisbourg opening the route to Canada.

August 27, 1758: The French surrender Fort Frontenac on Lake Ontario, destroying their ability to communicate with their troops in the Ohio Valley.

October 21, 1758: British made peace with the Iroquois, Shawnee and Delaware Indians.
November 25, 1758: The British recapture Fort Duquesne, renaming it Pittsburg.

May 1, 1759: The British capture the French Island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbbean.

June 25, 1759:  British forces capture Fort Carillon and rename it Ticonderoga.

July 25, 1759: British take Fort Niagara. French abandon Crown Point.   British now control the entire western frontier.

September 13, 1759: Quebec. British win Battle of Quebec.  Montcalm and Wolfe, the commanding generals of both armies, die in battle.

May 16, 1760: French siege of Quebec fails

September 8, 1760: Montreal falls to the British; letters are signed finishing the surrender of Canada.

September 15, 1760: Functional end of the war. British flag is raised voer Detroit, effectively ending the French and Indian War.

1761: British make peace with the Cherokee.

September 18, 1762: French attempt to retake Newfoundland fails.

February 10, 1763: Treaty of Paris is signed officially ending the French and Indian/Seven Year’s War– All French possessions east of the Mississippi, except New Orleans, are given to the British.  All French possessions west of the Mississippi are given to the Spanish.  France regains Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia.

Fort William Henry Museum | Canada Street | Lake George, NY 12845 | 518-668-5471